Recently, I stopped by Seattle and caught up with a couple of the organizers behind a new advocacy-oriented website and organization called American Citizens for Taiwan. In a quiet corner of a University of Washington cafe, Brock and Julie Freeman sat with me and shared their perspectives on and motivation for creating this online social media tool to mobilize the broader American community in support of Taiwan’s democracy. As I listened to each share about their own personal thoughts and journeys, I was struck by their immense care and concern not just for Taiwan as an isolated democratic nation, but for its people and communities worldwide. And underneath our back-and-forth conversation about websites and movements, I could sense another story… a nurturing, supportive love story between Brock and Julie that has been tested by familial Taiwanese Green/Blue political perspectives, but has ultimately found balance, understanding, and mutual respect. But more than that, they are a shining example that every-day people can find common ground, bring influence, and take action as they have done through this website resource they have helped to create together along with their growing team.
Below, I share excerpts from our conversation as Brock and Julie introduce American Citizens for Taiwan and a glimpse into their personal stories:
H: Hi Brock and Julie. It’s nice to meet you both in person. Thanks for taking the time to meet up with me today!
B: Of course! And we appreciate all you have done with TaiwaneseAmerican.org, and your great ideas in highlighting people with your 100 Passionate People Project.
H: So, I wanted to sit and chat with you because of this new project that you’ve been working on, American Citizens for Taiwan. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
B: American Citizens for Taiwan or “ACT” for short, is an online, social media-focused approach to making sure the U.S. government’s position on Taiwan is fully supportive of Taiwan’s right to self-determination. It’s a mostly virtual organization that started with a core group in Seattle and now has staff members across the United States, in all about 15 people now. We realized Taiwan’s democracy is important to United States’ own democracy, security, and economy and we wanted to help other Americans understand this and give them a way to act on this.
H: Tell me more about your motivation for this approach.
B: Organizations like FAPA and Formosa Foundation do good work on the ground in Washington, D.C.; we realized though there was an opportunity to harness the increasing influence of the internet to directly connect people with their members of Congress. Since change won’t occur until people make their voices heard, ACT gives people a tool that amplifies their desire for continued democracy in Taiwan. Grassroots advocacy has accomplished amazing things for many causes and we firmly believe Taiwanese self-determination is such a cause.
H: It’s so wonderful that you’re taking such an active approach to helping support Taiwanese issues here in the U.S. I would love to hear more about your personal story. Have you been to Taiwan yourself? Is that how you and Julie met?
B: I have lived in Taiwan twice, the first time I worked as a stock market and economic analyst for National Securities, and the second when Julie and I married.
J: Brock and I actually met in Seattle where I was visiting and helping some family who were here temporarily. The whole story is novel length but the short version is not long after we met and became friends, I headed back to Taiwan. The next year Brock moved to Hong Kong for a consulting position, I was still working in Taiwan but was asked by my company to work from Guangzhou. I started going into Hong Kong on the weekends and over about a two year period, we became much more than friends. We decided to head to Taiwan to marry and spend some time with my family, then we moved back to the U.S. so I could meet his family, and we are still here.
H: Given the differing political backgrounds in your family and realizing that this is really a common story among many Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans, what are your thoughts on reconciling all this, especially when it comes to the work you’re doing here?
J: I no longer have any family in Taiwan.
B: It’s true, they’ve all been liquidated to North Korea.
J: OK, seriously though, my immediate family is very “blue” and before I started reading about things for myself, after I came to the U.S., I just ignored it all. It’s challenging when dealing with family members because emotions are already very high due to the relationship, and families just expect you should have the same viewpoint as they do. Since directly stating the opposite of what someone is saying doesn’t work to change their opinion, I’ve learned to look for opportunities to ask questions. Many times people just repeat what they heard, and as long as it agrees with their already held views, they don’t look any deeper. When you ask a question, not in a necessarily challenging way, but to really get at the heart of why they think that, it forces them to begin to think for themselves. As far as ACT is concerned, we made a decision early on that we would focus on human rights and self-determination and the U.S. support for those in Taiwan and in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. This makes ACT something people can support no matter if they lean towards a certain side of Taiwan’s political spectrum or they don’t care at all about politics, but just care about human rights.
H: Thanks for your honest answers. I really respect your openness about this typically sensitive topic. Back to the website… What should people expect if they sign up?
B: Action alerts and articles are emailed about twice a month, action alerts are directly related to legislation pending in Congress. Each action alert contains a link to an action page on the ACT website that guides you through the process of sending a message to your members of Congress. In about five minutes with each action alert received, you are helping to make sure the U.S. doesn’t slip on it’s commitment to human rights when it comes to Taiwan. Content is written with a U.S. perspective so we encourage people to forward to their non-Taiwanese friends to help them understand why Taiwan matters.
H: We’ve been following the website since the beta version went up a last year, and now you’ve already done a big makeover. It looks like you’re off to a great start! What are your hopes for the next year?
B: Increasing the ranks of Action Alert subscribers is our top goal, more members sending messages to Congress means higher visibility on Taiwan issues. And we’re always looking for dedicated folks to join our staff, a list of openings is available on our Facebook site, http://www.facebook.com/AmericanCitizensforTaiwan.
H: So, Brock, Julie, thank you again for taking the time to sit with me to share a little bit about American Citizens for Taiwan. It’s a great thing you’re doing, and our team at TaiwaneseAmerican.org wishes you the very best!
Support American Citizens for Taiwan by checking out and following these links: